Dr. Greenwood is associate professor of political science and global studies at California State University, San Marcos. The author would like to gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments provided by Jeff VanDenBerg, Jeannie Sowers, Ellen Lust and Patty Seleski on earlier drafts.
The Middle East has been among the most arid regions of the globe for several thousand years. Nevertheless, recent extreme events portend a significant decline in the region's available water resources and a meaningful change in its climate. In 1992, centuries-old underground springs feeding the Azraq wetlands in Jordan stopped flowing entirely. In the years since, similarly age-old springs in other parts of Jordan, including Jerash and Kerak, have also stopped flowing. During the 1990s, the Khabour River in Syria, a major tributary of the Euphrates, completely dried up for several years. And from 2006 to 2010, a ruinous drought severely ravaged areas of Jordan, Israel, Syria, Iraq and Turkey, displacing millions of people and devastating livestock and crops.
A strong body of scientific research supports the overall drying trend suggested by these events. Relying on global and regional climate simulations, several recent studies indicate that the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa are likely to experience substantially higher mean annual temperatures, lower annual levels of precipitation and increasing levels of water stress during the twenty-first century.1 In a study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), scientists have discovered that a notable trend towards a drier climate in the Mediterranean Basin is already occurring.2 Relying on three separate datasets of monthly precipitation records from 1900 to 2010, the study concludes that the land areas around the Mediterranean Sea are currently experiencing a pattern of increased drought, with a clear trend toward drier conditions emerging in the 1970s. Furthermore, a recent World Bank report on water scarcity in the Middle East and North Africa illustrates the growing danger of water insecurity in the Arab World. Describing the Middle East and North Africa as the most water-scarce region of the world, the report classifies nine of the region's 14 countries as "hyper-arid."3 In each of these nine countries, the total renewable water resources per capita are less than 500 cubic meters, below the level of "absolute scarcity," the lowest threshold on the water-availability scale. Even more important, the observed and projected trends toward increased aridity described by the scientific studies above suggest that the number of Arab countries below the level of absolute scarcity will grow in future years.
In an effort to identify and illustrate some of the potential challenges that increasing water scarcity and projected climate changes pose for Arab governments, this article offers a preliminary analysis of water politics in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.4 It is one of the most water-poor countries in the Middle East and the most water-stressed Arab country in the Levant. It possesses no major surface water resources and receives less precipitation than its Levantine neighbors to the west and north. On average, only 7 percent of the kingdom receives more than 200 millimeters (mm) of precipitation per year, versus 45 percent of Syria and nearly 90 percent of Lebanon.5
Second, Jordan is located in an area of the Middle East where some of the most severe effects from projected global and regional climate changes are expected to occur. According to regional climate-hydrology simulations conducted by Suppan et al., the areas of the Upper Jordan River Basin could see "mean annual temperature increases up to 4.5 degrees Celsius and 25 percent decreases in mean annual precipitation" by the end of the twenty-first century.6 Furthermore, there is strong evidence that the climate of the Mediterranean Basin is already becoming drier, making the challenges that Jordan and other countries in the basin face more than hypothetical.7
Third, Jordan is a valuable case for illustrating how government policy can play a greater role than natural events in the creation of water scarcity. The Jordanian government does a poor job managing demand for water, particularly in rural areas. Consequently, an analysis of Jordan will illustrate how government policy can either exacerbate or ameliorate the impact of a changing climate. In addition, Jordan is primarily seeking to solve its water crisis by finding more sources of supply. This is a common strategy among Arab governments, and analyzing the Jordanian case will illustrate some of the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach. Finally, and most important, Jordan is a valuable case for investigating the potential for the mismanagement of water resources and a changing climate to erode the foundations of Middle Eastern political regimes.
In the remainder of the article, the ways in which the Jordanian monarchy has used water and land as tools for generating political support will be explained. In addition, two specific examples of the Jordanian government's failure to adequately manage groundwater will be discussed: the failed 2002 Groundwater Control Bylaw and the destruction of the Azraq wetlands. The article will conclude with a detailed discussion of four critical challenges that climate change and increasing water scarcity pose for Arab states: managing groundwater resources more effectively, satisfying growing urban demand for water, coping with the potential for increased social and political instability, and meeting the challenge of ineffective governance. Overall, the article demonstrates that climate change and growing water insecurity pose significant threats to the patron-client links that Arab leaders have built up over time with key social groups such as tribes, farmers and urban water consumers, particularly those in areas with poorly maintained water infrastructure.
Water and the Politics of Rural Development
The Jordanian political system, like those in many other Arab countries, relies heavily on patron-client links between political elites and key socioeconomic groups for its stability and legitimacy. Since the establishment of the country in 1921, the monarchy has relied extensively on informal pacts and deals with key social groups (i.e., major tribes, business elites and farmers) to encourage sociopolitical stability and generate popular support. A critical aspect of this strategy has been the provision of cheap land and essentially free water to help Jordanians pursue a livelihood in farming. This policy, along with the preferential recruitment of "East Bankers" from major tribes for the armed forces and the government bureaucracy, has created a strong base of support for the monarchy in rural areas.8
During the 1950s and 1960s, when urban-based, largely Palestinian-dominated political movements and parties advocated the ideology of Arab nationalism, the late King Hussein made extensive use of patron-client links with Jordanians in rural areas to offset the political challenges that Arab nationalists in the kingdom's cities posed to his authority. Following the defeat of Palestinian nationalist groups and militias in Jordan's 1970-71 civil war, the monarchy's "Jordanianization" program strengthened patron-client links between East Bankers and the palace even further as growing levels of aid from Arab oil states were used to expand public employment, create government-run discount stores for public employees, and pay for rural development projects (irrigation, schools, roads). For Jordanians living in rural areas, public employment and government subsidies for essential goods such as food, energy and especially water, continue to be key pillars of their standard of living.
Water became an essential part of the monarchy's political bargain with rural residents during the 1950s, when the government began promoting agriculture as the foundation of rural development, and farming as a stable livelihood for the country's growing population. Irrigation played a key role in the government's campaign to encourage greater agricultural employment and productivity. Official efforts to promote irrigated agriculture in the Jordan Valley began in earnest following the creation of the East Ghor Canal Authority (EGCA) in 1959.9 This new government entity was tasked with implementing rural development plans in the Jordan Valley. The law that created the EGCA also authorized a complex land-reform policy designed to help owners prepare their land for irrigation while also giving small irrigated plots to landless farmers. This policy had a dual benefit for the government: it helped the propertied and the landless while also preparing each to be more productive through the use of modern irrigation techniques.10
The creation and expansion of irrigation infrastructure in the Jordan Valley by the EGCA successfully boosted crop yields and promoted economic development in the area until the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. This conflict led to a great deal of instability in the Jordan Valley, causing nearly 80 percent of the residents to flee. By the early 1970s, stability was restored, and the government soon created a new agency, the Jordan Valley Authority (JVA), to promote social and economic development. Working in concert with the publicly funded Agricultural Credit Corporation (ACC), the JVA promoted the adoption of advanced irrigation systems by Jordan Valley farmers including drip irrigation, plastic-tunnel and micro-sprinkler technologies, while replacing open-water canals with a pressurized pipe network. Together these innovations increased the overall efficiency of the Jordan Valley irrigation network from 45 percent to nearly 75 percent.11
The success of irrigated agriculture in the Jordan Valley led the government to promote a similar rural development program in the northern Badia during the late 1970s. The region is populated primarily by Bedouin, most of whom have been settled in towns and villages. The 1970s program in the northern Badia was part of a larger effort to settle Bedouin in the kingdom and help them make the transition from pure livestock farming to livestock and crop farming. Unlike the Jordan Valley, where the primary source of irrigation was surface water from the East Ghor Canal Project, in the Badia and the rest of the Jordanian Highlands, groundwater was, and continues to be, the only year-round source of water for irrigation.12
Official promotion of Highland irrigated agriculture was conducted via the precursor to the Water Authority of Jordan (WAJ), the Natural Resources Authority (NRA) and the ACC. The NRA granted drilling licenses to Highland farmers, while the ACC offered subsidized loans to finance the drilling of wells on private farms. By the early 1980s, strong demand for Jordanian fruits and vegetables in the Persian Gulf "together with subsidized energy prices [for pumping groundwater], the construction of the Mafraq tomato-paste factory, and local market protection during harvesting season encouraged private investment in irrigated agriculture and resulted in rapid agricultural expansion in the AZB [Amma-Zarqa Basin] highlands."13
Although the government's promotion of Highlands agriculture successfully encouraged rural development and strong support for the monarchy in rural areas, the rapid expansion of farming in the Highlands led farmers to pump more and more water from underground aquifers. In response, the WAJ started issuing drilling licenses that specified limits on groundwater abstraction, but these limits were never enforced. The failure of the WAJ to enforce these limits or to impose fines on violators led to a further rush of private land buying throughout the 1980s, with high-ranking government officials (both military and civilian), urban-based fruit and vegetable retailers, and successful farmers from the Jordan Valley taking the lead.14 Later, during the 1990s, a new wave of investors led by Palestinian returnees from the Persian Gulf bought up agricultural land and drilled hundreds more wells in the Highlands, putting even greater pressure on the crucial Amman-Zarqa and Azraq aquifers.
The rush to invest in Highlands farming had several negative consequences, the most significant being the unsustainable abstraction of groundwater. According to recent data from the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, the average rate of abstraction from renewable aquifers during 2010 was 155 percent of the annual recharge rate. However, this percentage could be even higher; the safe yield rate used to determine this figure was calculated in 1977, when rainfall totals were closer to the long-term average (1937-2009) of 8,249 million cubic meters (mcm). In contrast, the total amount of precipitation in 2010 was 7,550 mcm, which is 6 mcm less than the 30-year rainfall average (1980-2009) of 7,556 mcm and much less than the long-term average of 8,249 mcm.15 It is likely that annual recharge rates of underground aquifers have declined in step with the decrease in rainfall totals over time. In addition, the government's failure to enforce limits on groundwater abstraction has led many Jordanian farmers to adopt the view that water for agricultural use is a "free resource" and that the government should not regulate groundwater pumping.16 Thus, when the government sought to reduce abstraction rates and promote water conservation via Groundwater Control Bylaw no. 85 in 2002, both individual farmers and agricultural interest groups exerted considerable efforts to shape the bylaw's content while also resisting its implementation.
According to Pitman, farmers and agricultural interests in the kingdom played key roles in crafting the language of the 2002 bylaw.17 The new law set a quota of 150,000 cubic meters per year per well and imposed a fee of $0.035 for every cubic meter pumped beyond the annual quota. The 150,000 cubic-meter quota chosen by the government in 2002 was more than twice the historical water-extraction quotas used in Jordan.18 Through the adoption of such a large quota, many farmers were exempt from the new law, thereby undermining its effectiveness at promoting conservation. In addition, effective implementation of the law faced several more obstacles. First, at the time of the law's passage, only 61 percent of water meters on groundwater wells were functioning properly, making it impossible to enforce the quota on nearly half of the kingdom's wells. Second, the WAJ did not have enough personnel to inspect water meters and enforce the new law's restrictions. Third, anecdotal information indicated that a number of farmers were tampering with meters on their property and that some WAJ employees could be bribed to avoid charges or penalties for pumping beyond the new quota.19
In April 2004, the first annual water bills were sent by the WAJ to farmers who had exceeded the 150,000 cubic meter quota set by the new bylaw. However, rather than pay these bills, a group of the affected farmers used their connections to officials within the various government water agencies and the cabinet to win key modifications of the 2002 bylaw instead. These included an increase in the quota from 150,000 to 200,000 cubic meters per year and a lowering of the water tariff rate from $0.035 per cubic meter to $0.007.20 These modifications further weakened the law as a mechanism for promoting water conservation and clearly demonstrated the ability of agricultural interests to thwart official efforts to reduce groundwater abstraction rates.
Overall, the combination of deeply flawed groundwater-control bylaws and the government's unwillingness to force farmers to pay for water extracted above their quota led to falling water tables across the kingdom. According to 2004 data from the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, "The average maximum decline in groundwater levels ranged from around 2.53 meters in the southern part of the side-wadis aquifer to more than 100 meters in the Jafr groundwater basin."21 Furthermore, personal interviews with Jordanian water experts and international development officials conducted by the author in January 2012 and January 2013 indicated that many farmers continue to avoid paying for the water abstracted above the new 2004 limits.
Death of an Oasis
One of the most illustrative cases of the Jordanian government's poor record of groundwater management is the gradual destruction of the Azraq oasis. Throughout the modern history of the Middle East, the Azraq oasis and its accompanying wetlands in eastern Jordan were key resources for livestock herders, small farmers and migratory birds. However, unregulated growth in the number and size of farms in Azraq along with the overpumping of groundwater for both agricultural and municipal use caused the springs feeding the oasis to stop flowing in 1992 and the wetlands to dry up soon after. Residents of Azraq and visitors to the area prior to the 1990s experienced a thriving year-round ecosystem of plants, trees, land animals, fish and birds. Now the wetlands area only has water following winter rains. During the rest of the year, the "wetlands" are a dried mudflat full of dead trees and nearly bereft of animal life.
While the loss of a once-thriving ecosystem is significant in and of itself, what makes the case of Azraq noteworthy is that the wetlands' destruction was due entirely to the pumping of groundwater at a pace far in excess of the rate at which the aquifer is naturally replenished by rainfall and underground water flows. During the 1970s, scores of large farms were established in the region using machine-drilled wells and diesel pumps. Prior to the 1970s, farmers in the region relied on manual wells that withdrew water at much lower rates than those drilled and pumped by machines. By 1980, 103 farms existed in the region, covering a total area of 7,566 dunams.22 In 1994, the number of farms had increased to 191 and the total area to 24,686 dunams. By 2009, the total number of farms more than doubled, to 512, with a total area of 51,847 dunams.23
At the same time that the number and size of farms in the region was exploding, Azraq became a major source of fresh water for Jordan's largest cities. In 1981, the Amman Water and Sewerage Authority (AWSA) began pumping water from the Azraq basin to relieve increasing water shortages in Amman and Zarqa, eventually supplying Amman with 25 percent of its drinking water. As a result of the increasing number of farms and growing demand for water in Amman and Zarqa, the total amount of water pumped from the Azraq basin increased from 21.6 mcm/year in 1983 to 51 mcm/year in 2009. In addition, illegal wells in the basin are estimated to be extracting an additional 13 mcm/year.24 With at least 65 mcm being extracted per year, the aquifer is being exploited at almost three times its natural recharge rate of 24 mcm/year.
Overabstraction of the Azraq aquifer has led to falling water tables in wells and a significant increase in the salinity of the water being pumped from under ground. Forty percent of the farmers surveyed by Demilecamps and Sartawi in Azraq during 2010 reported a drop of between one and three meters in the levels of their wells, while some long-time farmers reported drops as high as 20 meters. Two subregions of the Azraq basin, Jiza and North Badia, reported even more dramatic drops in well levels, with one farmer reporting a drop of 35 meters over 25 years, another reporting a 60-meter drop in 20 years, and a third farmer reporting a drop of 20 meters annually. In addition, farmers from these regions testified that the rate of flow from their wells had decreased by almost 75 percent.25 Furthermore, water-quality tests conducted by Demilecamps and Sartawi indicated high salinity levels, with 26 out of 36 wells surveyed in Azraq having more than 1,000 parts per million (ppm), and some reaching as high as 2,150 ppm.26 Increasing salinity levels in the water and soil (due both to the naturally saline soils of Azraq and overirrigation) are decreasing yields on many farms and have led some cultivators to abandon their farms altogether.
Finally, while the case of Azraq makes clear that poor regulation and management of groundwater is a serious threat to Jordan's water security, ongoing and projected changes in the climate of the eastern Mediterranean also pose a grim threat, given the kingdom's status as the most arid country in the Levant and its "downstream" position from Syria and Israel, each of which extracts very large quantities of water from the Yarmouk and Jordan Rivers, respectively. Several recent studies paint a bleak climatic picture for Jordan in the medium to long term. Using a scaled-down global climate model comparing actual climate and hydrologic data from 1961 to 1999 with projections for 2070-99, Suppan et al. estimate that the northern and central areas of the kingdom will experience an increase in mean annual temperature between 3.2 and 3.8 degrees Celsius and decreases in annual precipitation rates of 10-40 percent.27
In another study, Oroud concludes that "a temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius reduces annual water yield from a minimum of 9 percent as is the case for central Jordan to 17 percent in a drier location in southern Jordan." Furthermore, a "5 percent drop in annual precipitation reduces annual water yield from a minimum of 10 percent in the most humid area of the country to a maximum of 23 percent in the drier realms in the south." 28 Overall, Oroud argues that Jordan stands to lose at least 50 percent of its renewable water resources in the event that projected higher temperatures and lower precipitation levels in the Eastern Mediterranean actually occur. Lastly, increasing temperatures in Jordan will lead to decreased snowfall in the northern and central highlands, resulting in the diminished recharge of groundwater from snowmelt.29
Challenges for Arab States
Faced with the immediate threat posed by the ineffective management of groundwater and the future threat of higher mean annual temperatures and significantly lower annual precipitation rates, the government of Jordan confronts considerable challenges. More important, Jordan is not the only Arab country being threatened by poor natural-resource management and projected climate changes. Arab states in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula face similar threats, as do some of Jordan's relatively "water rich" neighbors (Syria and Iraq). In this section, four critical policy challenges facing Jordan and other Arab countries in similar circumstances will be discussed.
The first challenge is the need to manage the extraction and use of groundwater more effectively, especially in the agricultural sector. From the 1950s to the present, the Jordanian government has undermined incentives to conserve water by promoting inefficient irrigation methods, failing to enforce limits on groundwater abstraction, and imposing few controls on the expansion of Highland farms. The prospects of cheap land, subsidized energy for groundwater pumping, and tariff protection for crops produced for domestic consumption led to a boom in agricultural investment during the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Meanwhile, the government's failure to make Highland farmers pay for the water they pumped from the ground led the latter to consider water a "free resource." Furthermore, even when water agencies have succeeded at encouraging farmers to use more efficient irrigation methods, the water savings are often wasted because the Ministry of Agriculture allows farmers to expand the area under cultivation.30
Evidence from other countries in the region illustrates that poor management and regulation of groundwater is not unique to Jordan. In Syria, the Baath party's promotion of food self-sufficiency and its support for the cultivation of water-intensive crops like cotton destroyed incentives for farmers to conserve water. Similarly, fuel subsidies for pumping groundwater and price supports for "strategic" food crops such as wheat, barley and lentils led Syrian farmers to maximize production without considering the impact on the quantity or quality of groundwater resources.31
In the Gaza Strip, thousands of illegal wells have been drilled and groundwater has been pumped at unsustainable rates, leading to the contamination of underground aquifers with seawater. According to a recent study by the environmental organization Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), 90 percent of the drinking water in the Gaza Strip contains higher levels of salinity than those recommended by the World Health Organization. The report also noted that the Gaza Strip is experiencing increasing outbreaks of water-borne disease, due to inadequate treatment of sewage. Speaking at a January 2014 press conference at which the study's findings were released, Gidon Bromberg, the Israel Director of FoEME, said, "The Gaza aquifer is near collapse and if they continue pumping, it will be irreversibly destroyed." Bromberg also noted that if groundwater continues to be pumped at current rates, "within two years there will be no usable water in Gaza."32
Urban Versus Rural Water Use
The second challenge that growing water scarcity and projected climate changes pose to Arab states is the increasing urban demand for water. Total demand among the 13 Arab countries in the Economic and Social Commission of Western Asia (ESCWA) is expected to grow to nearly 248 billion cubic meters per year by 2025, an increase of nearly 50 percent from the amount of water used in 2000.33 Even more important, the amount of water needed for domestic (household) use is projected to grow much faster than demand for water in the agricultural sector, an increase of 118 percent versus 28 percent. Finally, the population in ESCWA countries is expected to grow by almost one-third, from 210,898,000 to 277,952,000, with most of this growth occurring in urban areas.34
Over time, the increasing urbanization of Arab societies will significantly raise total demand for water, with urban residents using the most per capita, especially as they become more affluent. In addition, Arab societies comprise a very high percentage of young, unmarried individuals who, once they marry and start families, will demand new living spaces. As these additional spaces are built or acquired, the overall use of water will increase as new family units gain their own access, either legally or illegally, to municipal water systems and obtain high-water-use appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines. Thus, even if rising urbanization and education rates lead to a decrease in the average size of Arab families, water use is still likely to increase due to the expanding number of family units.35
Currently, the agricultural sector is the largest user of fresh water in Arab countries, consuming, on average, 85 percent of renewable water resources.36 If the increasing urbanization of Arab societies leads governments to reallocate water from agriculture for urban use, this is likely to be actively resisted by farmers, who have become accustomed to receiving a disproportionate share of national water resources. In Jordan, there is already growing tension between rural and urban water users. According to a Jordanian water official, Highland farmers regularly complain that wealthy residents in Amman are being allowed to build private swimming pools at the same time that farmers are being told they must use less water.37 Meanwhile, in Dhiban, the rural town where the first popular protests of Jordan's "Arab Spring" began in early 2011, residents strongly criticized the government's decision to pump water from the Wadi Mujib reservoir to Amman for household use instead of allowing local farmers to use it for irrigation.38
Tense relations between farmers and Arab governments will become even more commonplace if efforts to reallocate water from rural to urban use exacerbate existing inequities between farmers with political connections and those without. Another example from Dhiban helps illustrate this potential. While farmers from the areas near the Wadi Mujib reservoir are forbidden to use the water for irrigation, a former government minister with political connections freely uses water from the reservoir for his own farm without consequence. Resentment of such practices could give further momentum to popular reform movements that are currently active in several Arab countries, including Jordan. Many of these movements arose in response to pervasive corruption, and if similarly corrupt practices characterize the allocation of water among farmers in the future, those aggrieved may join rural protest and reform movements. For example, some farmers participated in the popular demonstrations that rocked Syria's rural areas in early 2011. Unhappy with corrupt government officials at both the local and national levels, farmers from agricultural areas surrounding the rural city of Dara joined with city residents to engage in the first popular protests against the Bashar al-Assad regime.39 Widespread knowledge of the wealthy and well-connected abusing water-conservation limits in Arab countries is likely to intensify ordinary farmers' opposition to, and undermine their willingness to comply with, any government-sponsored efforts to reduce agricultural water use.
Despite the prospect of strong opposition to any effort that will significantly reduce the amount of water devoted to agriculture, realities such as agriculture's diminishing contributions to gross domestic product (GDP) and national employment will make it difficult for political leaders to justify maintaining the agricultural sector's voracious consumption of freshwater resources. In Jordan, the amount of value added by agriculture as a percentage of GDP dropped from 13.3 percent to 3.3 percent between 1971 and 2011. Syria experienced a similar decline, with agriculture's share of total value added dropping from 32.8 percent in 1991 to 22.9 percent in 2009. An identical trend is taking place regarding agriculture's contribution to employment. In Syria, agriculture accounted for 32.9 percent of national employment in 2000 but only 14.9 percent in 2010. In Jordan, agriculture's share of national employment dropped from 4.9 percent to 2 percent over the same period.40 Other Arab states are experiencing similar trends.
Given agriculture's diminishing contribution to the overall economy and the growing contributions to GDP and employment made by urban-based industrial and service sectors, Arab governments will face increasing pressure to devote more water to domestic and industrial use in order to create jobs and sustain national economic growth. On the other hand, domestic agricultural production contributes positively to many Arab countries' balance of payments, since agro-exports are a reliable source of foreign exchange. For Arab countries that are highly dependent on foreign sources of energy, reliable sources of foreign exchange are absolutely critical in order to pay for oil and gas imports. Moreover, for Arab countries that also depend heavily on food imports, domestic food production helps reduce this import bill and allows scarce foreign-exchange reserves to be used for critical needs such as energy or industrial goods and equipment that cannot be produced domestically. Thus, some Arab governments will face very difficult choices in seeking to reduce the amount of water devoted to agriculture while also trying to avoid a crisis in the country's balance of payments. As such, the challenges that Arab governments face in reallocating more water from agriculture to domestic and industrial use are both political and economic.
One creative solution to the agricultural vs. domestic/industrial water-use conundrum is the substitution of treated wastewater for fresh water in the agricultural sector. In Jordan, wastewater from Amman and Zarqa is processed at the As-Samra treatment plant, and the treated wastewater is then mixed with fresh water at the King Talal Dam. This mixing is designed to increase the quality of the wastewater and make it usable for irrigated agriculture in the Jordan Valley. The usage of treated wastewater in combination with fresh water for irrigation allows surface water from the Yarmouk River that was previously utilized for Jordan Valley agriculture to be pumped to Amman for municipal and industrial use. Unfortunately, for Arab countries with large urban populations and high urban growth rates, even this solution is insufficient. The generation of treated wastewater cannot keep up with the growing demand for fresh water caused by rapid urban population growth. Moreover, if Arab countries lack access to significant surface-water resources, treated wastewater cannot be mixed with fresh water to make it usable for irrigation. Consequently, more and more Arab governments are turning to nonrenewable water sources and desalination.
The oil-exporting states of the Persian Gulf were the first to tap nonrenewable aquifers when demand for fresh water outstripped available water supplies. By the 1970s, the wealth generated from oil exports made it possible for these states to invest heavily in desalination plants, the primary sources today of fresh water for countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, diminishing renewable groundwater supplies and population growth were pushing even relatively poor Arab countries towards desalination and water megaprojects. For example, after six years of construction, the Disi Water Conveyance Project began supplying fresh water from the nonrenewable Disi aquifer in southern Jordan to Amman in July 2013. Experts estimate that the project can provide Amman with 110 mcm of fresh water annually for 50 to 100 years. However, a significant problem with the water from the Disi aquifer is its naturally high level of radioactivity. The Disi water must be mixed with fresh water from other sources to make it safe for domestic use.41
Jordan's other megaproject is the Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal. If and when this project is completed, it will exploit the difference in elevation between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea to generate hydroelectricity and then use this energy to power desalination plants that will supply fresh water to Jordan, Israel and Palestinians living in the West Bank. In addition, brackish water created by the desalination process will be pumped to the Dead Sea in an effort to reverse its shrinking volume. In late 2012, the escalating costs of the original project led Jordan to propose a scaled-down version focused only on supplying Jordan with fresh water. Instead of providing Jordan with the 260 mcm/year by 2025 as envisioned by the original project, the scaled-down project would generate only 70 mcm of desalinated water per year.42
While the Disi and Red Sea-Dead Sea projects will relieve some of the pressure on renewable aquifers in Jordan, the kingdom will continue to face a structural water deficit, as neither project can supply fresh water in the amounts needed for Jordan to meet all of its needs. Even if both projects reach full capacity, the projected deficit between available water supply and demand is still estimated to reach 284 mcm by 2022.43 Moreover, by pumping water only to the kingdom's cities, both projects will simply accelerate rural-urban migration and create greater demand for water since urban residents consume more per capita than rural residents. Thus, effective demand management of water will still be necessary even if both projects reach fruition.
Increased Social and Political Instability
The third challenge for Arab states confronting growing water scarcity and volatile climate changes is the potential for these trends to lead to increased social and political instability. In-depth case studies of the Philippines, the Gaza Strip and Chiapas, Mexico, assert a direct link between natural-resource scarcity and violent conflict.44 This conclusion is supported by some quantitative studies investigating the relationship between resource scarcity and sociopolitical conflict but not others.45 In the Middle East, the country that has received the most attention from advocates of a link between natural-resource scarcity and violent conflict is Syria. Francesco Femia, Caitlin Werrell, Shahrzad Mohtadi and others have asserted that severe drought from 2006 to 2010, coupled with the Syrian government's failure to mitigate its negative impacts on farmers and the agricultural sector, were possible drivers of the civil unrest that began in rural towns such as Dara and Deir Az-Zour in the first half of 2011.46 These claims have been challenged by other scholars, who argue that long-term mismanagement of Syria's natural resources, corruption and the negative effects of economic liberalization were the main drivers of violent civil unrest in Syria during 2011.47
Like the government in Syria, the Jordanian government has also mismanaged its groundwater resources by allowing, and directly engaging in, the unsustainable exploitation of aquifers such as that in the Azraq basin. To date, Jordan has been able to avoid the widespread exhaustion of surface and groundwater sources seen in Syria's northeast during the late 2000s. However, several of the kingdom's major aquifers have become unusable (e.g., al-Duleil) or are approaching exhaustion (e.g., al-Jafr). Should the mismanagement of groundwater resources eventually lead to conditions like those that arose in Syria during the late 2000s, the effects would be equally devastating. Crop failures and the death of livestock would drive residents of rural communities to seek jobs in the cities, where unemployment is currently in the double digits. Furthermore, traffic congestion and overcrowding in Amman are already causing considerable discontent among city residents; a sudden influx of migrants from the countryside would greatly raise social tensions. Waves of refugees from Palestine, Iraq, the Persian Gulf (1990-91) and now Syria have caused social and political problems and significant popular resentment towards new migrants and refugees.48
Possible social and political instability in Jordan would also have significant implications for surrounding states, as the kingdom has been a convenient destination for Israel, Kuwait, Iraq and Syria to "export" political refugees in the past. Should Jordan be politically destabilized by a combination of severe meteorological, economic and social circumstances, many of the refugees who originally fled neighboring countries may be forced to return, causing a regional political crisis. Moreover, if the instability in Jordan were severe enough, these returnees could be joined by thousands of Jordanian refugees seeking safety and shelter.
Although Jordan has absorbed, and continues to absorb, several waves of refugees, the country has yet to experience the situation of internally displaced people. The existence of such refugees could create a dangerous political situation; much of the blame for these migrants' condition would be laid at the feet of the Jordanian government and, by extension, the monarchy. Whereas past waves of refugees were the result of events outside of Jordan, massive rural-urban migration due to the unavailability of water in the rural areas would be blamed on the government's failure to manage water resources effectively, the bias of existing (e.g., Wadi Mujib reservoir) and new (e.g., the Disi Project) water infrastructure towards serving the kingdom's major urban centers rather than rural areas, and the government's failure to protect the livelihoods of rural residents in general. Moreover, if rural migrants overwhelm the ability of municipalities to provide adequate basic services such as safe water supplies, regular garbage collection and reliable electricity service, long-time urban residents' frustration with poor governance could trigger protests and instability.
Several incidents of social unrest related to the mismanagement of basic services have already occurred in Jordan. In 2007, negligent management of the water and sewerage networks in the town of Sakeb, 40 kilometers north of Amman, led hundreds of residents to become ill. When local and national officials denied that the problem was related to microbial contamination in the town's water supply, nearly 700 people demonstrated and had to be dispersed by riot police using tear gas.49 In another recent example of similar unrest, residents of Ruseifa within the Zarqa governorate blocked one of the city's main streets with burning tires in protest against inadequate water supplies from the Zarqa Water Directorate.50
Probably the most important political consequence of the exhaustion or pollution of groundwater in rural areas would be the loss of prestige for East Bank elites whose high social and political status is due in part to their ownership of land and control of groundwater. If these water resources are depleted or become unusable on a large scale, the tracts of land that prominent East Bank families and tribal leaders have carefully acquired and maintained for generations could become economically worthless, and the historically supportive relationship that has existed between these actors and the Jordanian monarchy could turn to opposition. The political relationship between East Bankers and King Abdullah II is already under considerable strain due to widespread discontent with the negative effects of neoliberal economic policies and high-profile instances of corruption, particularly since 2010.
The most serious challenge to the king's authority came in November 2012 following a reduction in subsidies for gasoline and fuels used for cooking and household heating. Demonstrations involving thousands of protesters broke out in Amman and several other cities, leading to violent clashes with police. In a significant change from the protests that arose in the kingdom during the 2011 Arab Spring, protesters in multiple locations demanded not only the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, but also directly criticized King Abdullah II. Should adequate supplies of fresh water become unavailable to rural residents, particularly key political constituencies like major tribes, the Jordanian monarchy would likely face even greater levels of opposition than those seen during the protests of November 2012.
Poor and Ineffective Governance
Poor and ineffective governance is the fourth and most difficult test that Arab states face in confronting the challenges posed by rapid urbanization, diminishing freshwater supplies, and a potentially drier and warmer climate. Jordan, like other Arab states, does not enforce laws and regulations consistently and effectively. The most common explanation given for this inability or unwillingness to apply laws and regulations equitably is the wasta, or "connections," argument. Informal ties between privileged individuals and those currently serving in the public bureaucracy or cabinet protect the former from the full application of laws and regulations in a variety of areas. In order to illustrate how "connections" work to protect privileged individuals and groups in Jordan, consider two examples involving water and land.
In 1983, the government began exploiting water from the Disi fossil aquifer to grow "winter wheat" in an effort to reduce the amount of money spent on wheat imports. The project quickly became too costly for the government, so in 1986 it rented the land to several private agricultural companies owned by former government officials and successful private businessmen. The rental agreement allowed the companies to use the land and up to 72 mcm of water annually from the Disi fossil aquifer free of charge to produce cereals for domestic consumption. However, soon after signing the rental agreements, the companies quickly shifted from cereal production to cultivating fruits and vegetables primarily for export. Furthermore, the companies used even more water than they were allocated, nearly 85 mcm per year. After the passage of the 2002 Groundwater Bylaw, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation imposed fees for the amount of water taken beyond the 72 mcm quota, but the companies refused to pay. A legal battle ensued and the courts ruled in favor of the ministry, saying that the new bylaw gave the government the authority to impose fees on water abstracted beyond the agreed-upon quota. Having lost in court, the companies' owners turned to informal lobbying and, in 2005, succeeded in convincing a newly appointed government to reverse the policy of charging the companies for the amount of water abstracted beyond the 72 mcm quota.51
The second example of connections being used to subvert legal regulations involves the registration of illegally acquired land. In an effort to reduce the amount of groundwater being used by farmers, the Jordanian government stopped issuing licenses for new water wells in 1992. However, farmers in Azraq and other Highland areas continued to drill wells, and many were able to register their farms legally with the Department of Land and Survey, despite the fact that these farms depended on water drawn from illegal wells. These farmers were able to do so by exploiting the tribal tradition of waad al jad, which allows tribal leaders to sell tribal land to whomever they choose. Furthermore, after approximately 10 years of "provable cultivation" by the land buyer, "this person can go to the authorities and can have the property put in his name after paying the sale price set by the government as well as a penalty."52 Numerous officials working in the Department of Land and Survey come from tribes practicing the tradition of waad al jad and are therefore willing to help individuals and farmers who have acquired their land in this way.53
Even though the use of connections by former government officials, prominent families and tribes to thwart official efforts to regulate the usage of land and water significantly undermines Jordan's water security, it is unlikely that either the monarchy or the government will effectively confront powerful individuals and social groups engaging in such practices. One reason for this reluctance is that some former government officials with large farms have detailed knowledge of past instances of corruption that the monarchy does not wish to come to light.54 Another reason is that the monarchy wishes to avoid provoking key political constituencies, even if it means looking the other way when individuals or groups break the law.55 Finally, the kingdom's tribes, both large and small, can mobilize quickly and effectively in opposition to government policies they do not like. Recent examples include public demonstrations against perceived bias in the January 2013 parliamentary elections, widespread protests against fuel-price hikes in November 2012, and extensive unrest related to the 2010 decision to curtail the number of municipalities in rural areas.
The challenges that growing water scarcity and climate change pose to Jordan and other Arab states are significant. The most important is the potential for both to disrupt the delicate balance that helps maintain stable political regimes in many Arab states. In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, access to reliable and adequate supplies of clean water is not only essential for every citizen's survival; it is also an indispensable part of the political bargain with rural Jordanians that has helped sustain the monarchical regime. Water is an indispensable element of ruling bargains in many other Arab countries as well, including Yemen, Morocco and Syria prior to the outbreak of its civil war. Moreover, all states in the region, including Israel and Turkey, stand to be significantly affected by the projected effects of climate change described at the beginning of the article. Many states in the Middle East and North Africa will see growing competition and conflict between urban and rural water needs, and these conflicts may lead to social and political unrest. In addition, there is the possibility that growing water scarcity and the effects of climate change could exacerbate existing political tensions between ethno-sectarian groups in Lebanon and Iraq.56 In states such as Egypt and Morocco, tensions could erupt along socioeconomic lines, where wealthy "privileged" users enjoy the cleanest and cheapest water, while poor people living in urban slums and polluted rural areas have to pay exorbitant prices to private suppliers for water of poor quality.57 Finally, in cases such as Jordan and Syria, where nationalists can mobilize public opinion against foreign countries (i.e., Israel and Turkey) for taking "more than their fair share" from regional surface water resources, governments will face an even greater challenge in enforcing compliance with new water-use restrictions, as their citizens may blame such measures on a foreign "outsider."58
1 Filippo Giorgi and Piero Lionello, "Climate Change Projections for the Mediterranean Region," Global and Planetary Change 63 (September 2008); E. Hertig and J. Jacobeit, "Downscaling Future Climate Change: Temperature Scenarios for the Mediterranean Area," Global and Planetary Change 63 (September 2008); and José M. García-Ruiz et al., "Mediterranean Water Resources in a Global Change Scenario," Earth-Science Reviews 105 (2011).
2 Martin Hoerling et al., "On the Increased Frequency of Mediterranean Drought," Journal of Climate 25 (2012).
3 World Bank, Making the Most of Scarcity: Accountability for Better Water Management Results in the Middle East and North Africa (2007), 7-9.
4 Fieldwork for this project was carried out in Jordan during January 2012 and January 2013. While in country, the author collected reports and documents dealing with water and agricultural policy in Jordan and interviewed 22 individuals (both Jordanian and foreign) working on water and agricultural policy. As many of the issues discussed in the article are politically sensitive, the author has chosen not to name these interviewees in order avoid causing them any undue harm for their cooperation in the research project.
5 Elias Salameh and Munther J. Haddadin, "The Population-Water Resources Equation," in Water Resources in Jordan: Evolving Policies for Development, the Environment, and Conflict Resolution, ed. Munther J. Haddadin (Resources for the Future Press, 2006), 9; and Fadi Karam, "Climate Change and Variability in Lebanon: Impact on Land Use and Sustainable Agriculture Development," unpublished manuscript, n.d.
6 Peter Suppan et al., "Impact of Climate Change on Water Availability in the Near East," in Climatic Changes and Water Resources in the Middle East and North Africa, eds. Fathi Zereini and Heinz Hotzl (Springer, 2010), 47.
7 Hoerling et al, "On the Increased Frequency of Mediterranean Drought."
8 "East Bankers" are Jordanian citizens whose families originated from the East Bank of the Jordan River, many of whom claim tribal descent whether they live in rural villages or Jordan's major cities. The term "Jordanians" will be used to refer to Jordanian citizens and residents as a whole, regardless of their family's geographic origin.
9Ghor is the Arabic word used by Jordanians to refer to the Jordan Valley.
10 Munther J. Haddadin, "Evolution of Water Administration and Legislation," in Water Resources in Jordan, 35-36.
11 Munther J. Haddadin, Sami J. Sunna, and Hani A. Al Rashid, "Development of Water Resources and Irrigation," in Water Resources in Jordan, 80.
12 Some Highland farmers also rely on water harvesting, or the storage of rainwater in small earthen dams for irrigation, but the primary source for irrigation water is underground freshwater aquifers.
13 Mauro Van Aken et al., Historical Trajectory of a River Basin in the Middle East: The Lower Jordan River Basin (Regional Mission for Water and Agriculture, 2006), 79.
14 Further incentives for investors were the exemption of farming income from taxes and a government subsidy reducing the cost of the diesel fuel used for water pumping. Munther J. Haddadin and Musa Shteiwi, "Linkages with Social and Cultural Issues," in Water Resources in Jordan, 218.
15 Don Humpal et al., "A Review of Water Policies in Jordan and Recommendations for Strategic Priorities: Final Report," United States Agency for International Development, April 2012, 6-8.
16 Chantal Demilecamps and Wael Sartawi, Farming in the Desert: Analysis of the Agricultural Situation in Azraq Basin (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, 2010), 20-21.
17 George T. Keith Pitman, "Jordan: An Evaluation of Bank Assistance for Water Development and Management," The World Bank Operations Evaluation Department, 2004.
18 Previous quotas used by the government were in the range of 50,000 to 100,000 cubic meters per year.
19 Jean-Philippe Venot and François Molle, "Groundwater Depletion in the Jordan Highlands: Can Pricing Policies Regulate Irrigation Water Use?" Water Resource Management 22 (2008), 1931.
21 Elias Salameh and Munther Haddadin, "The Population-Water Resources Equation," in Water Resources in Jordan, 16-17.
22 4.046 dunams equals one acre.
23 Demilecamps and Sartawi, Farming in the Desert, 12.
24 Ibid, 14.
25 Ibid, 21.
26 Ibid, 19.
27 Suppan et al, "Impact of Climate Change on Water Availability in the Near East," 52.
28 Ibrahim M. Oroud, "The Impacts of Climate Change on Water Resources in Jordan," in Climatic Changes and Water Resources in the Middle East and North Africa, 120.
29 Armin Margane et al., "Water Resources Protection Efforts in Jordan and Their Contribution to Sustainable Water Resources Management," in Climatic Changes and Water Resources in the Middle East and North Africa, 327.
30 Interview with a Jordanian agricultural economist, Amman, January 6, 2013.
31 Jessica Barnes, "Managing the Waters of Baath Country: The Politics of Water Scarcity in Syria," Geopolitics 14 (2009), 523-525.
32 Adam Nicky, "Gaza Strip Faces Water Shortage," Ynetnews, January 29, 2014, accessed February 16, 2014, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4482619,00.html.
33ESCWA Water Development Report 2: State of Water Resources in the ESCWA Region, 2. The ESCWA does not include Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria nor Morocco.
34 Ibid, 7-9.
35 For an excellent discussion of the interaction between demographic trends and demand for water, please see Diana Hummel, "The Interaction of Population Dynamics and Transformations in Water Supply Systems in the Jordan River Basin," in Climatic Changes and Water Resources in the Middle East and North Africa.
36 World Development Indicators, http://data.worldbank.org/products/wdi.
37 Interview, Amman, January 16, 2012.
38 Nicolas Pelham, "Jordan's Balancing Act," Middle East Information Project (February 22, 2011).
39 Francesca de Chatel, "The Role of Drought and Climate Change in the Syrian Uprising: Untangling the Triggers of the Revolution," Middle Eastern Studies (forthcoming).
40 World Development Indicators, http://data.worldbank.org/products/wdi.
41 Avner Vengosh et al., "High Naturally Occurring Radioactivity in Fossil Groundwater from the Middle East," Environmental Science and Technology 43 (2009). For a detailed discussion of the debate surrounding the health risks of water from the Disi aquifer, please see Ryan Greenwood (no relation to author), "Social, Political, Economic, and Health Effects of the Disi Aquifer on Jordanian Society," Independent Study Project Collection Paper 1104, 2011.
42 Hana Namrouqa, "Red Sea Project to be Scaled Down," Jordan Times, November 21, 2012.
43 Government of Jordan, "Water for Life: Jordan's Water Strategy, 2008-2022," Ministry of Water and Irrigation, 2009.
44 Thomas F. Homer-Dixon and Jessica Blitt, eds., Ecoviolence: Links Among Environment, Population and Security (Rowman and Littlefield, 1998); and Colin H. Kahl, States, Scarcity and Civil Strife in the Developing World (Princeton University Press, 2006).
45 Using the threshold of "social unrest," defined as communal violence and riots, some researchers have found a positive link between water scarcity and civil conflict. Examples of this literature include Cullen S. Hendrix and Idean Salehyan, "Climate Change, Rainfall, and Social Conflict in Africa," Journal of Peace Research 49 (2012); and Clionadh Raleigh and Dominic Kniveton, "Come Rain or Shine: Analysis of Conflict and Climate Variability in East Africa," Journal of Peace Research 49 (2012). Other studies using the threshold of civil war have not found a positive relationship between water scarcity and violent conflict. Please see Ole Magnus Theisen, Helge Holtermann, and Halvard Buhaug, "Climate Wars? Assessing the Claim that Drought Breeds Conflict," International Security 36 (Winter 2011/12).
46 Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, "Syria: Climate Change, Drought and Social Unrest," Center for Climate Security, February 29, 2012; and Shahrzad Mohtadi, "Climate Change and the Syrian Uprising," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, August 16, 2012.
47 Jeannie Sowers and John Waterbury, "Syria under Stress: Did Drought Trigger the Crisis in Syria?" Footnote One, accessed December 11, 2013, http://footnote1.com/did-drought-trigger-the-crisis-in-syria/; and De Chatel, "The Role of Drought and Climate Change in the Syrian Uprising."
48 Khaled Neimat, "Majority of Jordanians Call for End to Syrian Refugee Influx," Jordan Times, April 15, 2013.
49 "Jordan: Ten Injured in Diarrhoea Riots," IRIN Middle East, October 31, 2007.
50 Hana Namrouqa, "Tankers Dispatched to Dry Russeifeh Households," Jordan Times, October 31, 2012.
51 Haddadin, "Evolution of Water Administration and Legislation," 46-47; Nasim Barham, "Is Good Water Governance Possible in a Rentier State? The Case of Jordan," Center for Mellemøststudier (Syddansk University, May 2012); "Jordan: US$600 million project to end water shortage," IRIN Middle East, October 7, 2007; and personal interview, Amman, January 16, 2012.
52 Demilecamps and Sartawi, Farming in the Desert, 29.
53 Personal interviews, Amman, January 12 and 16, 2012.
54 Personal interview with a long time observer of Jordanian politics, Amman, January 7, 2013.
55 Personal interview with a Jordanian journalist, Amman, January 13, 2013.
56 For an analysis of how climate change may contribute to violent conflict and political instability in Iraq please see Achim Maas and Kerstin Fritsche, "Altering Security Dynamics? Climate Change Impacts in Iraq," in Climate Change, Human Security and Violent Conflict: Challenges for Social Stability, eds. Jürgen Scheffran et al. (Springer, 2012).
57 Such practices have been documented in the West Bank and Lebanon. Please see Neda Zawahri, Jeannie Sowers, and Erika Weinthal, "The Politics of Assessment: Water and Sanitation MDGs in the Middle East," Development and Change 42 (2011), 1166-1167.
58 While conducting her fieldwork in Syria during 2005 and 2006, Jessica Barnes found that most Syrians primarily blamed Turkey for Syria's water crisis. Please see Barnes, "Managing the Waters of Baath Country," endnote no. 31.